Part of Pope's bitter inspiration for the characters in the book comes from his soured relationship with the royal court. The Princess of Wales Caroline of Ansbach, wife of George II, had supported Pope in her patronage of the arts. When she and her husband came to the throne in 1727 she had a much busier schedule and thus had less time for Pope who saw this oversight as a personal slight against him. When planning the Dunciad he based the character Dulness on Queen Caroline, as the fat, lazy and dull wife. Pope's bitterness against Caroline was a typical trait of his brilliant but unstable character. The King of the Dunces as the son of Dulness was based on George II. Pope makes his views on the first two Georgian kings very clear in the Dunciad when he writes \"Still Dunce the second reigns like Dunce the first\".
Pope first published The Dunciad in 1728 in three books, with Lewis Theobald as its \"hero\". The poem was not signed, and he used only initials in the text to refer to the various Dunces in the kingdom of Dulness. However, \"Keys\" immediately came out to identify the figures mentioned in the text, and an Irish pirate edition was printed that filled in the names (sometimes inaccurately). Additionally, the men attacked by Pope also wrote angry denunciations of the poem, attacking Pope's poetry and person. Pope endured attacks from, among others, George Duckett, Thomas Burnet, and Richard Blackmore. All of these, however, were less vicious than the attack launched by Edmund Curll, a notoriously unscrupulous publisher, who produced his own pirate copy of the Dunciad with astounding swiftness, and also published \"The Popiad\" and a number of pamphlets attacking Pope.
In these prefatory materials, Pope points out that the Keys were often wrong about the allusions, and he explains his reluctance at spelling out the names. He says that he wishes to avoid elevating the targets of the satire by mentioning their names (which, of course, did happen, as a number of persons are only remembered for their appearances in the poem), but he similarly did not want innocents to be mistaken for the targets. Pope also apologises for using parody of the Classics (for his poem imitates both Homer and Virgil) by pointing out that the ancients also used parody to belittle unworthy poets. Pope's preface is followed by advertisements from the bookseller, a section called \"Testimonies of Authors Concerning Our Poet and his Works\" by \"Martinus Scriblerus\", and a further section named \"Martinus Scriblerus, of the Poem\".
The political attack is on the Whigs, and specifically on the Hanoverian Whigs. The poem opens, in fact, with the goddess Dulness noting that \"Still Dunce the second rules like Dunce the first\", which is an exceptionally daring reference to George II, who had come to the throne earlier in the year. Furthermore, although the King of Dunces, Theobald, writes for the radical Tory Mist's Journal, Pope consistently hammers at radical Protestant authors and controversialists. Daniel Defoe is mentioned almost as frequently as anyone in the poem, and the booksellers picked out for abuse both specialised in partisan Whig publications.
The cultural attack is broader than the political one, and it may underlie the whole. Pope attacks, over and over again, those who write for pay. While Samuel Johnson would say, half a century later, that no man but a blockhead ever wrote but for money, Pope's attack is not on those who get paid, but those who will write on cue for the highest bid. Pope himself was one of the earliest poets to make his living solely by writing, and so it is not the professional author, but the mercenary author that Pope derides. He attacks hired pens, the authors who perform poetry or religious writing for the greatest pay alone, who do not believe in what they are doing. As he puts it in book II, \"He [a patron] chinks his purse, and takes his seat of state [among the poets] ... And instant, fancy feels th' imputed sense\" (II 189, 192). He objects not to professional writers, but to hackney writers. His dunce booksellers will trick and counterfeit their way to wealth, and his dunce poets will wheedle and flatter anyone for enough money to keep the bills paid.
The plot of the poem is simple. Dulness, the goddess, appears at a Lord Mayor's Day in 1724 and notes that her king, Elkannah Settle, has died. She chooses Lewis Theobald as his successor. In honour of his coronation, she holds heroic games. He is then transported to the Temple of Dulness, where he has visions of the future. The poem has a consistent setting and time, as well. Book I covers the night after the Lord Mayor's Day, Book II the morning to dusk, and Book III the darkest night. Furthermore, the poem begins at the end of the Lord Mayor's procession, goes in Book II to the Strand, then to Fleet Street (where booksellers were), down by Bridewell Prison to the River Fleet, then to Ludgate at the end of Book II; in Book III, Dulness goes through Ludgate to the City of London to her temple.
The action shifts to the library of Lewis Theobald, which is \"A Gothic Vatican! of Greece and Rome / Well-purg'd, and worthy Withers, Quarles, and Blome\" (I 125-126) (a Vatican Library for Northern European authors, and especially notable for vainglorious and contentious writing and criticism). Theobald is despairing of succeeding in writing dull poetry and plays, and he is debating whether to return to being a lawyer (for that had been Theobald's first trade) or to become a political hack. He decides to give up poetry and become an entirely hired pen for Nathaniel Mist and his Mist's Journal. He therefore collects all the books of bad poetry in his library along with his own works and makes a virgin sacrifice of them (virgin because no one has ever read them) by setting fire to the pile. The goddess Dulness appears to him in a fog and drops a sheet of Thule (a poem by Ambrose Philips that was supposed to be an epic, but which only appeared as a single sheet) on the fire, extinguishing it with the poem's perpetually wet ink. Dulness tells Theobald that he is the new King of Dunces and points him to the stage. She shows him,
Book II centres on the highly scatological \"heroic games\". Theobald sits on the throne of Dulness, which is a velveteen tub (\"tub\" being the common term for the pulpit of Dissenters), and Dulness declares the opening of heroic games to celebrate his coronation. Therefore, all her sons come before her on the Strand in London, leaving half the kingdom depopulated, for she summons both dull writers, their booksellers, and all who are stupid enough to patronise dull writers.
The first game is for booksellers. (Booksellers at the time purchased manuscripts from authors, and the proceeds from book sales went entirely to the bookseller, with the author getting no more than the advance price.) Dulness therefore decides upon a race for the booksellers. She creates a phantom Poet,
but, instead, a fat, well dressed poet (and therefore a wealthy, noble one who would command sales by his title). The phantom poet is named More, a reference to James Moore Smythe, who had plagiarised both Arbuthnot (Historico-physical Account of the South-Sea Bubble) and Pope (Memoirs of a Parish Clark), and whose only original play had been the failed The Rival Modes. The booksellers immediately set out running to be the first to grab Moore, with Bernard Lintot setting forth with a roar (Lintot had been James Moore Smythe's publisher), only to be challenged by Edmund Curll:
The booksellers will urinate to see whose urinary stream is the highest. Curll and Chetham compete. Chetham's efforts are insufficient to produce an arc, and he splashes his own face. Curll, on the other hand, produces a stream over his own head, burning (with an implied case of venereal disease) all the while. For this, Chetham is awarded a kettle, while Curll gets the phantom lady's works and company.
(Blackmore had written six epic poems, a \"Prince\" and \"King\" Arthur, in twenty books, an Eliza in ten books, an Alfred in twelve books, etc. and had earned the nickname \"Everlasting Blackmore\". Additionally, Pope disliked his overuse of the verb \"bray\" for love and battle and so had chosen to have Blackmore's \"bray\" the most insistent.)
Settle gives Theobald full knowledge of Dulness. This is his baptism: the time when he can claim his divine role and begin his mission (in a parody of Jesus being blessed by the Holy Spirit). Settle shows Theobald the past triumphs of Dulness in its battles with reason and science. He surveys the translatio stultitia: the Great Wall of China and the emperor burning all learned books, Egypt and Omar I burning the books in the Ptolemean library. Then he turns to follow the light of the sun/learning to Europe and says,
Settle turns to examine the present state of \"duncery\", and this section of the third book is the longest. He first looks to literary critics, who are happiest when their authors complain the most. Scholars are described as:
In 1741, Pope wrote a fourth book of the Dunciad and had it published the next year as a stand-alone text. He also began revising the whole poem to create a new, integrated, and darker version of the text. The four-book Dunciad appeared in 1743 as a new work. Most of the critical and pseudo-critical apparatus was repeated from the Dunciad Variorum of 1738, but there was a new \"Advertisement to the Reader\" by Bishop Warburton and one new substantial piece: a schematic of anti-heroes, written by Pope in his own voice, entitled Hyper-Critics of Ricardus Aristarchus. The most obvious change from the three-book to the four-book Dunciad was the change of hero from Lewis Theobald to Colley Cibber.
Pope's choice of new 'hero' for the revised Dunciad, Colley Cibber, the pioneer of sentimental drama and celebrated comic actor, was the outcome of a long public squabble that originated in 1717, when Cibber introduced jokes onstage at the expense of a poorly received farce, Three Hours After Marriage, written by Pope with John Arbuthnot and John Gay. Pope was in the audience and naturally infuriated, as was Gay, who got into a physical fight with Cibber on a subsequent visit to the theatre. Pope published a pamphlet satirising Cibber, and continued his literary assault until his death, the situation escalating following Cibber's politically motivated appointment to the post of poet laureate in 1730. Cibber's role in the feud is notable for his 'polite' forbearance until, at the age of 71, he finally became exasperated. An anecdote in \"A Letter from Mr. Cibber, to Mr. Pope\", published in 1742, recounts their trip to a brothel organised by Pope's own patron, who apparently intended to stage a cruel joke at the expense of the poet. Since Pope was only about 4' tall, with a hunchback, due to a childhood tubercular infection of the spine, and the prostitute specially chosen as Pope's 'treat' was the fattest and largest on the premises, the tone of the event is fairly self-apparent. Cibber describes his 'heroic' role in snatching Pope off of the prostitute's body, where he was precariously perched like a tom-tit, while Pope's patron looked on, sniggering, thereby saving English poetry. In the third book of the first version of Dunciad (1728), Pope had referred contemptuously to Cibber's \"past, vamp'd, future, old, reviv'd, new\" plays, produced with \"less human genius than God gives an ape\". While Cibber's elevation to laureateship in 1730 had further inflamed Pope against him, there is little speculation involved in suggesting that Cibber's anecdote, with particular reference to Pope's \"little-tiny manhood\", motivated the revision of hero. Pope's own explanation of the change of hero, given in the guise of Ricardus Aristarchus, provides a detailed justification for why Colley Cibber should be the perfect hero for a mock-heroic parody. 153554b96e